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Chronicle AM: Murder Charges for Dealers in ODs "Bad Justice Policy," Study Finds, More... (8/21/18)

Prosecuting opioid dealers for overdose deaths is counterproductive "policy theater," concludes a new study; a key New Jersey politician says the votes are there to pass a legalization bill, and more.

Prosecuting drug dealers for murder in opioid overdose deaths is counterproductive and "bad justice policy," a new study finds.
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Senate President Says He Has Votes to Pass Legalization Bill. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) now says he has the votes needed to pass a marijuana legalization bill, probably next month. He told POLITICO that he will tie together efforts to legalize marijuana and expand medical marijuana so people who support medical will have to vote for recreational. "Don't be surprised when people who say they were against it vote for it," Sweeney said, predicting Republicans who support expanding medical marijuana will support legalization, too.

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Officially Fails to Make Ballot. Green the Vote organizers admitted earlier this month that they had failed to gather enough signatures to qualify the State Question 797 legalization initiative for the November ballot, and now Secretary of State James Williamson has made it official. He announced Tuesday that initiative supporters had gathered only 102,814 raw signatures. They needed 123,725 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Pennsylvania State Senator Starts Petition Drive to Boost Legalization Bill. State Sen. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny County) announced Tuesday that he has launched an online petition in support of a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2600. "There are tremendous benefits to legalizing marijuana and few downsides," said Wheatley. "It's estimated that legalization would generate more than $580 million in annual tax revenue for Pennsylvania. That's money to balance our budget, strengthen our economy, bolster our workforce and improve our schools."

Sentencing

Prosecuting Dealers for Opioid Deaths "Bad Justice Policy," Study Concludes. A new study says prosecuting drug dealers for opioid overdose deaths is not only "bad law and bad criminal justice policy," but also exacerbates a public health crisis that has taken tens of thousands of lives. Such prosecutions are little more than "policy theater," said study author Leo Beletsky, Associate Professor of Law and Health Sciences of the Northeastern University School of Law. "Aside from crowding out evidence-based interventions and investments, these prosecutions run at complete cross-purposes to efforts that encourage witnesses to summon lifesaving help during overdose events," Beletsky wrote.

Chronicle AM: Overdose Deaths at Record High, DEA Cuts Opioid Production Quotas, More... (8/16/18)

Drug overdose deaths hit another record high last year, the DEA is cutting prescription opioid quotas again, California pot tax revenues are not meeting expectations, and more.

According to the CDC, more than 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Pot Tax Revenues Still Sluggish. The state has taken in $82 million in marijuana tax revenues in the first six months of 2018, finance officials reported. That's less than half the $185 million anticipated. Politicians and industry figures say that's because illicit sales still flourish and because many localities in the state don't allow retail marijuana sales. At a meeting with state regulators Tuesday, fingers were also pointed at a shaky supply chain, a shortage of licenses, testing problems and restrictions on retail sales and deliveries.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Marijuana Foes Try Hail Mary Court Challenge to Block Initiative. Opponents of the Proposition 2 medical marijuana initiative filed a lawsuit in state court Wednesday seeking to remove the measure from the ballot. The opponents claim the initiative would tread on their freedom of religion because it violates the religious beliefs of a Mormon foe. "In the United States of America, members of all religions, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have a constitutional right to exercise their religious beliefs," the complaint reads. "This includes the right not to consort with, be around, or do business with people engaging in activities which their religion finds repugnant." Proponents of the initiative called the move "a wacky attempt" by foes to derail medical marijuana.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

DEA Proposes Big Cuts in Opioid Manufacturing Next Year. The DEA has proposed decreasing the manufacturing quotas for the "six most frequently abused" opioids for next by 10%. That would be the third straight year of reductions. The move is described as part of President Trump's Safe Prescribing Plan, which seeks to "cut nationwide opioid prescription fills by one-third within three years." Neither this proposed cut nor the plan address whether bluntly tightening production quotas could lead to shortages for patients needing them for chronic pain.

Overdose Deaths At Record High Last Year, Driven By Opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Wednesday that preliminary figures showed that more than 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year, up 7% over 2016. Opioids, which include prescription painkillers along with heroin and other illegal synthetic opioid drugs, contributed 49,068 to the total number of overdose deaths, the report indicates. From 2002 to 2017, the CDC estimates a 4.1-fold increase in the total number of deaths due to all types of opioid drugs.

Horrible Wisconsin "Cocaine Mom" Law Could Finally Be Repealed

For 20 years, Wisconsin prosecutors have used a state law, the Unborn Child Protection Act of 1998 (Act 292), to jail adult pregnant women suspected of using drugs or alcohol. Supporters claim the "cocaine mom" law protects fetuses from maternal drug abuse, but critics say the law's language is vague, that it deters pregnant women from seeking prenatal and other health care, and that it unnecessarily and unconstitutionally forces some pregnant women into treatment and state supervision.

The law was found unconstitutional by a federal court last year, but state Attorney General Brad Schimel appealed, and the US Supreme Court allowed the law to stay in effect until the case was decided. But in June, the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that the plaintiff, Tammy Loertscher, had left the state.

Loertscher was 14 weeks pregnant and residing in Medford in 2014 when she tested positive for methamphetamine. Although she told her doctor she had stopped using the drug when she realized she was pregnant, a judge ordered her into inpatient drug treatment. She was then jailed until she agreed to be drug tested throughout her pregnancy. She gave birth to a healthy male child in 2015.

Loertscher was by no means alone -- hundreds of pregnant women have been accused of "unborn child abuse" under the law -- and the dismissal of the case means pregnant women in the state remain in jeopardy.

At the time of the dismissal, attorney Nancy Rosenbloom, director of legal advocacy for National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), decried the ruling.

"Today's decision means that all women in Wisconsin have to worry that when they seek health care, if there's even a chance they might be pregnant, the state can take them into custody, lock them up in a drug treatment program, a mental hospital or a jail -- whether or not drug treatment is really needed," she said.

Now, Rosenbloom and NAPW are taking the fight to a new arena: the court of public opinion. They have joined forces with a three-year-old national group, Reproaction, to take on the law. The group is forthright about what it wants: "Reproaction is a new direct action group forming to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice. We are proud of our left-flank analysis, and are not in this fight to protect the past or maintain the status quo," the group says on its web site.

Reproaction has created the #WIFights 292 campaign to take the fight to the public. The campaign is planning educational fora across the state, a social media campaign, and information pickets, among other tactics.

"All people who experience pregnancy, including pregnant women in Wisconsin, deserve access to appropriate, confidential health care without fear of losing their rights to medical decision making, privacy, and liberty," #WIFight292 explains on its web site.

"At Reproaction, we center our work around the women in Wisconsin who may be targeted by enforcement of Act 292. We are organizing activists and community leaders across Wisconsin to demand action from those in power and channel community into a movement to advance reproductive justice that will ultimately dismantle Act 292. We know that direct action gets the job done, and we will take bold action to educate the public about and put a stop to enforcement of Act 292."

For Rosenbloom and the medical and public health groups that oppose the law, the hope is that the campaign can do what the courts have failed to do: kill a bad law.

"This law only harms women and children," she said.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter , a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Medical Marijuana Update

A new bill in Guam would allow home cultivation, Oklahoma officials still have issues with the voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, and more.

Guam

Guam Bill Would Allow Home Cultivation. Five years after the US territory legalized medical marijuana, access issues have prompted Sen. Louis Muna to file a bill that would allow patients to grow their own at home. The bill got a public hearing Tuesday night, with mostly positive testimony. No word yet on it will get a committee vote.

Michigan

Michigan Lawmakers Call on Governor to Prevent Shutdown of Unlicensed Dispensaries. Temporarily operating dispensaries have permission to stay open until September 15 as they try to obtain state licenses, but a group of state legislators says the state is moving too slowly with licensing and are asking Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to prevent the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation from sending out cease and desist orders to unlicensed businesses on September 16. More than 637 businesses have applied for licenses, but only 16 have been issued so far, and there is only one more licensing board meeting before the deadline. The legislators are calling for the deadline to be extended so patients aren't left in the lurch.

Ohio

Ohio Deadline for Getting Program Up and Running Goes Up in Smoke. The state's medical marijuana program is supposed to be up and running by September 8, but that isn't going to happen. The state Department of Commerce is still selecting businesses that will be issued cultivation licenses. The department says it can issue up to 18 of those licenses before September 8, but that means the first crops won't be ready until November.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Agencies Still Have "Concerns" Over Legal Medical Marijuana. Interim health commissioner Tom Bates told lawmakers last Wednesday that the Health Board still had concerns about how medical marijuana will be implemented and that a special session of the legislature may be needed to see the program properly implemented. The board wants lawmakers to amend the law so that, among other changes, commercial grows are indoor only, patient home grows are prohibited or require a special license, smokable marijuana is prohibited, THC levels are limited to 12% or less, a pharmacist is required on-site at dispensaries, and that a list of qualifying conditions for patients be created. Some of the changes are among those recommended in the Health Board's first try at setting interim rules, which were retracted in the face of loud public opposition. Any effort to re-adopt them is certain to lead to renewed clamor.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: ND Governor Opposes Pot Initiative, Ohio MedMJ Delays, More... (8/15/18)

The dog days of summer continue with little going on in the world of drug policy. But North Dakota's Republican governor comes out against the legalization initiative, the Ohio medical marijuana program is behind schedule, and more.

A bill filed in Guam would allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own. (pixabay.com)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Governor Comes Out Against Legalization Initiative. Gov. Doug Burgum (R) has come out in opposition to the Legalize ND marijuana legalization initiative, saying he is against "the full, unfettered legalization of recreational marijuana." He told local media, "I encourage voters to educate themselves on the specific wording and far-reaching implications of all ballot measures. My personal stance against full, unfettered legalization of recreational marijuana has not changed."

Medical Marijuana

Guam Bill Would Allow Home Cultivation. Five years after the US territory legalized medical marijuana, access issues have prompted Sen. Louis Muna to file a bill that would allow patients to grow their own at home. The bill got a public hearing Tuesday night, with mostly positive testimony. No word yet on it will get a committee vote.

Ohio Deadline for Getting Program Up and Running Goes Up in Smoke. The state's medical marijuana program is supposed to be up and running by September 8, but that isn't going to happen. The state Department of Commerce is still selecting businesses that will be issued cultivation licenses. The department says it can issue up to 18 of those licenses before September 8, but that means the first crops won't be ready until November.

Chronicle AM: MPP Gets New Director, Ontario Pot Shops to Be Private Not State-Run, More... (8/14/18)

The Marijuana Policy Project picks a veteran criminal justice advocate as its new head, Canada's most populous province makes a last-minute switch from state-run to privately-run pot shops, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Policy Project Names New Head. The nation's most well-funded marijuana advocacy group has named Steve Hawkins as its new executive director. Hawkins previously served as the executive director of Amnesty International USA, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and executive vice president of the NAACP. "Steve has a strong track record in the field of criminal justice reform, and he knows how to build a movement toward meaningful social change," said Troy Dayton, the chair of MPP's board of directors. "We were not only impressed by his expertise and experience, but also his strong convictions regarding the injustice of marijuana prohibition." Hawkins replaces Rob Kampia, who had led the group since its founding in 1995. Kampia resigned late last year and now runst a consulting group called the Marijuana Leadership Campaign.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Lawmakers Call on Governor to Prevent Shutdown of Unlicensed Dispensaries. Temporarily operating dispensaries have permission to stay open until September 15 as they try to obtain state licenses, but a group of state legislators says the state is moving too slowly with licensing and are asking Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to prevent the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation from sending out cease and desist orders to unlicensed businesses on September 16. More than 637 businesses have applied for licenses, but only 16 have been issued so far, and there is only one more licensing board meeting before the deadline. The legislators are calling for the deadline to be extended so patients aren't left in the lurch.

International

Ontario Suddenly Switches from State-Run Marijuana Stores to Private Ones. Canada's most populous province has at the last minute discarded plans for state-run pot shops in favor of allowing private businesses to run the stores and allowing consumers to purchase marijuana online for delivery. The late switch means people in Ontario will not be able to go to pot shops when they become legal nationwide on October 17, but will now have to wait for the province's new target date of April 1, 2019. But online sales will begin on day one.

Chronicle AM: ND MJ Init Makes November Ballot, Colombia to Forcibly Uproot Coca, More... (8/13/18)

North Dakota becomes the second state (after Michigan) to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative this year, Denver's mayor comes around on legal pot, the UN will review marijuana's status under international law, and more.

Denver's mayor opposed marijuana legalization, but now has seen the light. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Legalization Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. The secretary of state's office announced Monday organizers of a marijuana legalization initiative had handed in enough valid voter signatures to qualify their measure for the November ballot. That makes North Dakota the second state to qualify a legalization initiative for November: Michigan activists did so earlier this year.

Denver Mayor Changes Tune on Legalization. Mayor Michael Hancock campaigned against the state's successful 2012 legalization initiative, but after five years of legal weed, he's singing a different tune. Prompted by a recent report that touted the city's accomplishments with legal marijuana, Hancock now says the city's approach "is working." He noted that the city was the first large city in the country to take on the "daunting challenge" of legalization, "and we are having success."

International

UN Launches First-Ever Full Review Of Marijuana's Status Under International Law. The World Health Organization's (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) will launch a first-ever in-depth review of whether marijuana is properly scheduled under international drug control treaties. The group held a "pre-review" earlier this year. "A pre-review is the first step of the ECDD's assessment process, where it is determined whether there is enough robust scientific information to proceed to the next step, called a critical review. This initial evaluation is also an opportunity to identify gaps in the available scientific data. A critical review is carried out when there is sufficient scientific evidence to allow the ECDD to make an informed recommendation that the substance be placed under international control, or if its level of control should be changed."

Canada's British Columbia Begins Drug Testing in Provincial Cities. Responding to a large number of opioid overdose deaths in the province, BC Interior Health has begun funding full-time drug testing services in seven cities in the province. The program provides fentanyl testing strips to local service providers.

Colombia's Defense Minister Says Government Will Forcibly Eradicate Coca Crops. Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said last Friday the government has decided to forcibly eradicate coca crops in the country. Former President Juan Manuel Santos had ended forced eradication in a bid to reduce associated violence, but new President Ivan Duque will go ahead despite the potential for violence in a move that is sure to please the United States.

Chronicle AM: PA Gov Says State Not Ready for Legal Pot, New FDA Guidelines on MATS, More... (8/9/18)

The FDA has issued new draft guidance aimed at expanding the use of medication-assisted treatments (MATs) for opioid addiction, Pennsylvania's governor says the state isn't ready for legal weed, the Oklahoma medical marijuana fight isn't over yet, and more.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) isn't on the same page as his counterparts in New York and New Jersey. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Governor Says State Not Ready for Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said during a radio interview on Tuesday that he doesn't think the state is ready to legalize marijuana. "There are, what, six states that have legalized recreational marijuana in the United States," Wolf said. (The actual number is nine.). "I don't think the citizens of Pennsylvania are ready for it, and so the answer I would say is no… I don't think Pennsylvania's actually ready for recreational marijuana." The position puts Wolf at odds with two neighboring Democratic governors, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, who is strongly pushing legalization, and Andrew Cuomo of New York, who just signed off on the notion.

Los Angeles Won't Vote on Raising Pot Tax in November. The city council has reversed a decision to place a 1% marijuana tax increase on the November ballot. The city estimated it would raise approximately $30 million per year from the tax increase, but faced immediate blowback from industry groups who said pot taxes were already too high and are driving consumers to the black market.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Agencies Still Have "Concerns" Over Legal Medical Marijuana. Interim health commissioner Tom Bates told lawmakers Wednesday that the Health Board still has concerns about how medical marijuana will be implemented and that a special session of the legislature may be needed to see the program properly implemented. The board wants lawmakers to amend the law so that, among other changes, commercial grows are indoor only, patient home grows are prohibited or require a special license, smokable marijuana is prohibited, THC levels are limited to 12% or less, a pharmacist is required on-site at dispensaries, and that a list of qualifying conditions for patients be created. Some of the changes are among those recommended in the Health Board's first try at setting interim rules, which were retracted in the face of loud public opposition. Any effort to re-adopt them is certain to lead to renewed clamor.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

FDA Seeks to Expand Use of Medication-Assisted Therapies for Addiction. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday released new draft guidance aimed at promoting the creation and more widespread use of medication-assisted therapies (MATs) for opioid use disorder. The guidance adjusts how FDA evaluates new treatments for opioid addiction. Instead of only determining whether a treatment lowers opioid use, the agency will now assess whether the medication could help lower overdose rates and limit the spread of infectious disease. "We must consider new ways to gauge success beyond simply whether a patient in recovery has stopped using opioids, such as reducing relapse overdoses and infectious disease transmission," said Scott Gottlieb, FDA commissioner.

Medical Marijuana Update

Show Me State voters will vote on three different medical marijuana initiatives, Oklahoma finally gets some livable temporary medical marijuana rules, and more.

Illinois

Illinois Governor Signs Bill Allowing Medical Marijuana Administration in Schools. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has signed into law a bill that requires public schools to allow the parents of sick children to administer medical marijuana to them at school. The law allows parents to administer "cannabis-infused products" if both the child and the parents have been approved under the state's medical marijuana law.

Missouri

Missouri Will Vote on Not One, Not Two, But Three Medical Marijuana Initiatives. The secretary of state's office last Thursday certified three different medical marijuana initiatives for the November ballot. There is a constitutional amendment from New Approach Missouri, as well as a constitutional amendment from Find the Cures and an easier to amend statutory initiative from Lowell Pearson, a Jefferson City attorney.

Ohio

Ohio Awards First Medical Marijuana Processing Licenses. The state Department of Commerce last Friday issued seven provisional licenses to aspiring medical marijuana processors. This is just the first round of licensing for processors; the state could license up to 40 such operations.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Health Board Approves New Medical Marijuana Rules. The Board of Health last Wednesday adopted new rules to govern the state's medical marijuana system. The new rules amend or totally revoke the original proposed rules, which included a ban on the sale of smokeable marijuana, a requirement that a pharmacist be present at dispensaries, and a requirement that women of childbearing age take a pregnancy test before using medical marijuana. Also gone are guidelines that limited THC levels.

Oklahoma Governor Signs Revised Emergency Rules for Medical Marijuana. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) on Monday signed a revised set of emergency regulations to govern medical marijuana use in the state. The first attempt at emergency rules blew up in Fallin's and the state Health Department's face, being widely criticized for provisions banning the sale of medical marijuana, requiring a pharmacist to be present in dispensaries, and requiring that women "of child-bearing age" undergo a pregnancy test. None of those provisions remain in the new rules, which Fallin called "very basic" and a good basis for developing a comprehensive regulatory regime.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Dispensaries Now Offering Buds. For the first time since state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries opened their doors in the state, patients can buy dried flowers from plants grown under the legal system. At least 16 dispensaries in the state were offering buds as of last Wednesday, with more certain to follow as harvest season looms. But under state law, the buds cannot be smoked -- only vaped.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: OK Legalization Init Looks Less Likely, Ted Cruz Attack Backfires, More... (8/7/18)

The Oklahoma marijuana legalization initiative has far fewer signatures than organizers claimed last week, marijuana is seeping into congressional and senatorial campaigns, and more.

Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke raked in big campaign bucks after Ted Cruz accused him of being a drug legalizer. (Flickr)
Marijuana Policy

Ted Cruz Attack Ads Backfire as Beto O'Rourke Has Huge Fundraising Weekend. Incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R) last Friday released a trio of ads attacking Democratic challenger Rep. Beto O'Rourke, including one that claimed O'Rourke said "we should consider legalizing all narcotics, including heroin." O'Rourke supports marijuana legalization and, as an El Paso city council member, called in 2009 for a discussion about ending the drug war, including drug legalization, which is distinct from endorsing drug legalization. In the wake of the Cruz attack ads, though, O'Rourke reported raising $1.2 million over the weekend from some 39,000 grassroots contributions.

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Looks Less Likely. Last week, Green the Vote, the group behind the State Question 797 legalization initiative, claimed it had more than 132,000 raw signatures -- slightly more than the number of valid voter signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot -- but the group admitted Tuesday morning that the actual raw signature count was actually around 75,000. The deadline for handing in signatures is Wednesday. "I've been working 24 hours a day to bring in those signatures to try to make up for it so that I wouldn't be letting you down, and I understand I have let you down," Green the Vote's Isaac Caviness said. "No matter what -- if we have the signatures, if we don't have the signatures -- I have let you down, and I accept that."

Wisconsin US Rep. Sean Duffy Slams Democratic Opponents Over Marijuana Legalization. Incumbent Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) is attempting to use support for marijuana law reform as a cudgel with which to attack his Democratic opponents. Both 7th District Democratic primary contenders, Margaret Engebretson and Brian Ewart, have come out in support of marijuana legalization. When asked about his reaction, Duffy responded thusly: "I'm the father of eight kids and as a former prosecutor and now a congressman, I see what's happening in America with a drug epidemic, from opioids to meth to heroin. I think marijuana is a gateway drug to these other drugs," Duffy said.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Governor Signs Revised Emergency Rules for Medical Marijuana. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) on Monday signed a revised set of emergency regulations to govern medical marijuana use in the state. The first attempt at emergency rules blew up in Fallin's and the state Health Department's face, being widely criticized for provisions banning the sale of medical marijuana, requiring a pharmacist to be present in dispensaries, and requiring that women "of child-bearing age" undergo a pregnancy test. None of those provisions remain in the new rules, which Fallin called "very basic" and a good basis for developing a comprehensive regulatory regime.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

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